First, Jack Ma wants to bring the world to the Chinese consumer.
This story first appeared in the June 17, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Then he wants to serve the world with e-commerce.
Ma, chairman of Chinese Internet giant Alibaba, said he doesn’t intend to compete with Amazon and eBay, but wants to bring U.S. products to his native China.
Although a handful of U.S.-based companies have started to work closely in China with Alibaba’s mobile payment arm Alipay, selling goods to China on a mass scale is still difficult. Ma said there are several successful American companies in China — Microsoft and Oracle among them — but that so far, no Chinese companies have made it big in the U.S.
Ma laid out his plan to change that during a meeting hosted by the Economic Club of New York Tuesday.
His goal is boost the portion of Alibaba’s business that comes from outside of China to 40 percent, up from 2 percent currently.
“We need more American products to [sell in] China,” Ma said. “We have 100 million people coming to buy every day. We are not coming here to compete.”
Ma said the export-oriented China should concentrate on importing, especially from the U.S., which is home to brands that have become extremely well-known to the discerning Chinese consumer.
More than 100 million people go online to buy each day in China, where Alibaba’s Single’s Day shopping holiday drove $9.7 billion in sales in just one day last year.
And Ma said the company was built for cross-border sales.
“It was founded in China but created for the world,” Ma said of the company. “That’s why we called it Alibaba and not some Chinese character you don’t know.”
In China, where the middle class is nearly as large as the U.S. population and is set to double, Alibaba’s retail marketplaces have fueled 10 million entrepreneurs and 14 million jobs.
“People ask me when we’re going to invade America. We have great respect for eBay and Amazon but…for us, it’s helping small businesses in America and selling their products to China,” Ma said, calling the Internet a “treasure for small businesses.”
He said if America is good at helping big companies, then China should help the smaller organizations make more money.
Ma said the 16-year-old Alibaba is different than Amazon, which it is most-often compared to, because Alibaba doesn’t buy and sell products, it helps small businesses buy and sell. He added that the company doesn’t own warehouses or inventory.
Alibaba facilitated sales of $390 billion last year and Ma said the sales the company enables could top Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s take this year.
Ma’s vision for the next decade is to build Alibaba into a company that can serve two billion customers, who could shop from anywhere in the world and receive their packages within 72 hours.
Many of those customers will be in China, where Alibaba is growing quickly, in part because the company can fill in gaps that, in the West, are occupied by strong networks of brick-and-mortar stores.
Ma also addressed the hot-button issue of counterfeits, noting that whenever he visits the U.S. and Europe, there are “always counterfeit issues.”
“People never complain to the seller, they complain to Taobao and us,” Ma said of counterfeit items being sold online. The company now has 2,000 people on staff full-time to combat the issue, who shut down counterfeit entities at a rate of more than 10,000 shops a week.
He said there is just one complaint about authenticity for every 860,000 transactions made on one of his sites.